U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon on Saturday told Morocco’s monarch he would not give in to demands to change his peace envoy on the Western Sahara conflict, diplomats said.
Morocco announced in May that it no longer has confidence in U.N. envoy Christopher Ross, who it accused of being “unbalanced and biased” in attempts to mediate a solution for the disputed territory at the heart of one of Africa’s oldest conflicts.
But in a telephone call, Ban told King Mohammed VI “the United Nations does not intend to modify the terms of its mediation, whose purpose is to promote the achievement of a mutually acceptable political solution to this conflict,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban said that Ross and the head of the U.N. mission in Western Sahara, Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, “will fulfill their respective mandates in promoting the negotiating process,” Nesirky added in a statement.
U.N. diplomats said Morocco has demanded that Ross be replaced and that Ban’s call with the King Mohammed was intended to reaffirm his refusal to give in to pressure.
The U.N. has several times vouched its support for Ross, despite the deadlock in his efforts to broker peace talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front separatist group. The UN has also accused Morocco of seeking to undermine the work of the U.N. mission in Western Sahara.
Morocco started annexing the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1975. The Polisario launched a guerrilla war which lasted until the U.N. brokered a truce in 1991.
Several rounds of informal talks organized by Ross have failed to get either side to budge. The Polisario demands a self-determination referendum in the phosphate rich territory, while Morocco has offered broad autonomy.
Ban said Ross and Weisbrod-Weber would continue their work “encouraging further improvement of Moroccan-Algerian relations and in supervising peacekeeping activities” in Western Sahara.
Morocco is a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council and a key contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Ban “took the occasion to praise the leadership of his majesty and express his appreciation for the significant contribution” that Morocco makes to the United Nations, Nesirky said.
“Morocco participates readily in the efforts of the international community to bolster stability and security and prevent conflicts at the regional and international levels,” the spokesman added.